Daria Kolomieс is a Ukrainian DJ, producer, TV and radio host, founder of the music app MusiCures and a cultural activist.
In an interview to ‘Bukvy’, she told about volunteering, representation of the Ukrainian culture in the USA, and about her projects.
When did your first cultural mission to America take place?
Since February 24, 2022, the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, my sense of who I am regarding the profession has changed. If earlier I was introduced everywhere as ‘Daria Kolomieс, producer, presenter, DJ’ and so on, since February 24 I have focused on telling the world about Ukraine. I covered events in Kyiv and Ukraine on my social network pages, translated my posts into English.
In addition, I started compiling ‘Diary of War’ – first-hand stories of Ukrainians about their experiences at the beginning of the full-scale war. These stories were recorded as voice messages, without moderation and notes. I edited them, translated them, and published wherever possible. However, later I noticed a tendency in the world to get used to the news about the victims and destruction in Ukraine; it seemed to have become a routine for foreigners. They begin to tolerate it, and switched to their problems, forgetting about us. Due to the fact that since February 24, I had been publishing all content on my Instagram in English, many foreigners followed me. I tried to show them the basic, ordinary things about life inside the war: where to run during the air raid alert, how to hide in the basement of a cafe with forty other people, how to have a snack and take a shower in time between sirens and shelling.
I went to the USA for the first time in the summer, in 7 months after the beginning of the full-scale war. I went there to spread the Ukrainian music in the world and tell the truth about the Russian war against Ukraine. First, I came there was for 5 weeks, to New York. I chose this city because it is like the center of the world for everyone, and I came to tell about the center of my world – Ukraine. To popularize Ukraine, its culture and tell the truth, to fight against Russian propaganda. During my first stay, I was focused on the musical component: I played Ukrainian music in many notable places: at New York Pride, at The Lot Radio, at legendary Le Bain, in Manhattan…
I brought with me to America my unique collection of records of Ukrainian musicians. Much of this music cannot be found on streaming services and simply added to a playlist. One of the most impressive stories I tell during my performances is about how difficult it was to release a Ukrainian record in the 1970s. It was not possible to release music on vinyl independently of the state, as everything had to be approved by Communist Party officials. On the same record, there could be a Soviet propaganda song and extraordinary funky experiments, more similar to Western music. These were compromises and tricks that musicians had to resort to in order to be able to work. I try to show and tell all this through my performances.
That is why I now identify myself as a cultural activist and volunteer. I see the promotion of Ukrainian culture and the fight against Russian propaganda in the world as my cultural and educational mission for the near future. I am trying to fight for our culture, tell about Russian crimes in Ukraine, about the fact that the war has been going on not only for nine years, but for centuries, because Ukrainian artists, poets, directors, musicians and composers were under constant repression, many of them were murdered.
I see that the spread of Ukrainian culture is really important, because Chekhov’s plays are still staged here, and they believe in ‘great Russian culture’. When I tell Americans about Ukrainian culture and its artifacts, they see that it is unique and has a long history. I also tell that for several centuries in a row Russians have been doing everything to erase Ukrainian culture: they killed many Ukrainian artists and ‘appropriated’ others.
I tell about it at every opportunity: for example, the New York Times wrote about Volodymyr Ivasiuk, and soon his song will appear in my selection of Ukrainian songs for one of the most interesting and well-known world media about music. Some time ago, TIME magazine paid attention to my work – they included me in their list of Next Generation Leaders. I managed to make them mention Ivasiuk and ‘Diary of War’, and these worthless attempts by the Russians to destroy Ukrainian art.
After 5 weeks in the USA, I returned to Ukraine. At that time, I had no plans to go to New York again. I stayed in Kyiv for some time, held charity meetings, spoke for several important initiatives, tried to continue my work with the Western world. However, later I realized that I could do more for Ukraine from America.
Since then, I have been coming back to the US because I still see the sense in it. This is a country that gives us weapons, but still knows little about Ukrainian culture. This is a country where people are ready to help. They often do not know how to do it, but they are ready to listen and hear. Each conversation I have, from a small talk in a coffee shop to meeting media personalities, is about Ukraine and the Ukrainian reality in which we live now. Every person I meet learns about the Mustache Funk phenomenon and starts listening to Diary of War. I do not have a permanent home here or people who invite me here; I just buy a ticket and go, knowing that here I can do much more for Ukraine. I hope soon, there will be no need to do this and I will be able to stay at home.
I feel the value of my experience for this struggle. I was constantly in Ukraine during the first six months of the full-scale war, I was in Ukraine for several weeks during constant blackouts. I am constantly in contact with my loved ones in Ukraine, and I still receive notifications about air raids in Kyiv. I feel everything happening in Ukraine, because I do not associate myself with another country, even when I am not physically at home. It gives power to the words I speak to audiences in the US, because I know what I am talking about – it is happening in my home and with me!
At the same time, I noticed how this experience makes me more rigid and radical in my beliefs. Sometimes I wonder why I have to explain seemingly obvious things about ‘good Russians’, their ‘liberal’ media, Russian imperialism… It turns out that those who moved abroad years before the start of the full-scale invasion sometimes feel the context of the struggle a little differently than those who experience the war personally. They contribute to the Ukrainian movement abroad, they help in every way, but sometimes they tolerate things that I cannot. This is probably a separate important direction of work.
I came to New York for the second time for 3 months. I focused on two important things, and the first one is the musical component. I do not do ‘parties’ now, for me and for a large part of the audience, such events are not about parties. I cannot play music and enjoy it like it was before. I turn my performances into a protest: I take out the ‘Russia is a terrorist state’ flag, tell about the events in Ukraine, so that the Americans join support efforts. The music is also very different: it is not about ‘dancing’, but about ‘listening’. I am not afraid to make these performances less ‘dancing’: they are about completely different emotions, about the diversity of Ukrainian music, about meaning.
My second vector is ‘Diary of War’. 41 stories. Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kyiv and many, many different stories from people’s lives. There is a story of a deaf woman from Kharkiv who did not even understand that the war had begun. She learned about it from her daughter. A Paralympian from Mariupol who stayed in the basement with his wife. They had no water at all, and their last glass of water was given to a young mother because she was feeding her baby. Many difficult, but very important stories, because they help show the reality to Americans. You, Kateryna, were at one of these events, when actors read two pieces from Mariupol diaries during Yevhen Maloletka’s exhibition.
I began to do such public readings in many places. In this way, I got acquainted with the artistic community The Naked Angels, which is one of the oldest theater associations in New York. It has been gathering actors, directors and playwrights for many years, arranging open improvisational readings of different texts. When they were reading stories from the ‘Diaries’, it was difficult for them to believe that this was not fiction, but the direct speech of a real person. It made such a strong impression on them that we arranged several such evenings together.
Then I returned to Ukraine to see my loved ones and prepare for a performance at Eurosonic Noorderslag. This is the largest music conference and showcase festival in Europe. I participated in two panels about activism and Ukrainian culture and played a set of Ukrainian music from different eras.
Now I am in the US again. I first came to Los Angeles on the anniversary of the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. To mark this date, together with the Sunflower Network Foundation, we organized a big event in Los Angeles, where the paintings by Ukrainian artists were presented, and I read my war diary for the first time, because the ‘Diary of War’ podcast began with what I recorded myself. I read the text in English and voiced it for the first time after the beginning of the war. It was very difficult for me. I tried to realize why and what exactly I wrote. These ‘Diaries’ are important because they present the stories written in the midst of events. This is not an interview, but the flow of thoughts of each involved person. Each diary begins at 5 am on February 24.
It was very difficult to return to what I was telling then, because it was a very painful and traumatic experience, which I not only had to read to myself, but to do it in front of other people. There were mostly Americans there, and I had the feeling that I was just naked in front of everyone. Emotionally, physically. At one point, it even seemed that I did not have even skin. The sensitivity increased dramatically.
We turned on the sirens. The event started as an ordinary exhibition, where people just come to see Ukrainian art, buy it, donate… I really wanted to turn on the sirens to convey my feelings to them, because I understand that our life was once the same as theirs now. However, one morning you wake up to a siren and life changes forever.
I read my diary, played a set of Ukrainian music with stories about Ivasiuk, Ukrainian musicians of that time, about the modern Ukrainian electronic scene. In one evening, we managed to collect 204 thousand dollars for Ukraine. Now the fund will purchase humanitarian aid for this money. They bring everything to Ukraine, from food to ambulances. The first batch with the use of this money should be made in the spring.
While I am here, I am helping foundations and charities raise money for Ukraine, telling Americans why it is important. During my last visit, such events with my participation accumulated more than 100,000 dollars. This time, we already have more than 200,000 for the Sunflower Network, we collected more than 14,000 in two auctions at poetry evenings of Serhii Zhadan, and that is not all. These are considerable sums, especially if transferred into hryvnias, but it is difficult for me to understand whether we can somehow collect even more, even faster. I am not a representative of any foundation or charity, so I do not receive any fees, it is 100 percent volunteer work for me.
The main thing I would really like to share is why I have come to New York now. I continue my mission and joined a show called RADIO 477!. This is a performance about Kharkiv – a jazz musical, the events of which take place in Kharkiv in 1929. The author of the text is Serhii Zhadan, the director is Virliana Tkach, and the actors are from the artistic community Yara Arts Group. I wrote the music for the performance, to which the actors enter the stage in the final part.
The performance is extremely beautiful, the actors dance, sing, play, and all this is accompanied by the orchestra music, composed by American musician Anthony Coleman. In a very original way, modernity is intertwined with the 1920s in the play, and the story itself is also extremely interesting. This performance was created based on the jazz revue ‘Hello on the wave 477’ of the legendary Kharkiv theater ‘Berezil’ headed by Les Kurbas. Its premiere took place in 1929. The music for this revue was written by composer and one of the first Soviet jazzmen Yulii Meitus, and lyrics by poet and novelist Mike Johansen. In those days, Kharkiv radio operated on 477 frequency, and therefore all Kharkiv residents understood that the play was about Kharkiv.
It is also interesting that Virliana Tkach, the director of this performance and the person who planned it all and assembled the team, found the orchestral score of Yulii Meitus, the composer for the 1929 performance. She found this score in the Kharkiv archive during a trip to Ukraine. We thought that it was no longer available anywhere, but Virliana found it, brought it to the USA, and the authentic music from that first performance is used in the current one. This is one of the important projects for which I came to the USA for the third time. We have already had three sold-out shows; Timothy Snyder came to see us.
The performance takes place in New York, in the experimental theater ‘La MaMa. There are 4 more shows to go.
The performance is emotionally difficult, many plot elements are intertwined with reality, and a siren also sounds. For my outro, I took a fragment of Yulii Meitus’s composition and wrote a modern, electronic part for it, so the audience will get a more dynamic, modern sound. First, we invite the characters of the performance to dance, and then the audience – and for me this is such a symbol of the indomitability of Ukrainians. After all, the war continues, the genocide continues, but we, living in all this, are trying to live, dance, continue business, some even give birth to children.
They are trying to destroy us, and we still find something to be happy about! In Ukraine, there are concerts, some chamber charity parties, people find new creative solutions every day.
I was very inspired by one episode. In the first weeks of the great war, I was in a shelter in Kyiv, there were 40+ people, and we were singing songs. We did not know if we would live to see tomorrow, but we were singing. I really wanted to end the performance just like that, emotionally. Actually, I wrote this electronic part with these thoughts – we all go out dancing at the end, attract the audience and Timothy Snyder also danced with us. No one fully captured this, but I will remember it for the rest of my life.
It is so impressive that Virliana Tkach found all this in Ukraine and revived that experimental theater of 1929. Kharkiv in 1929 could become the capital of jazz and modern art, but this was not destined to happen because of the Soviets. Les Kurbas was imprisoned just a few years later, and even Yulii Meitus’ score for the play is a treasure that was miraculously found.
History says that we will survive. I do not know if I will survive, but Ukrainians are definitely indomitable.
Reference: ‘Radio 477!’ was created based on the jazz revue ‘Hello on the wave 477!’ of the legendary Les Kurbas ‘Berezil’ theater in Kharkiv. It was premiered in 1929. The music for the revue was written by Ukrainian composer and one of the first Soviet jazzmen Yulii Meitus and lyrics by poet and novelist Mike Johansen. At that time, the Kharkiv Kurbas radio was operating on 477 frequency, so all Kharkiv residents immediately understood from the posters that the play was about their city.
For a modern musical, American composer and jazz musician Anthony Coleman wrote a new adaptation of the previously lost orchestral score by Meitus, which was found by Virliana Tkach in the Kharkiv archive during a trip to Ukraine. Serhii Zhadan wrote poems for the play, and cultural activist and music producer Daria Kolomieс created an outro performance for the final part.
‘This is a symbolic performance that becomes a link between 1929 and the present. It begins with a fragment from the composition of Yulii Meitus ‘Kharkiv, Kharkiv…’, and then acquires a more modern, dynamic sound and invites the characters of the play, and then the audience, to dance. For me, this is a life-affirming symbol of the indomitability of Ukrainians, who for centuries, despite war, repression, and genocide, have remained true to themselves, their idea, and have the strength to live. This inspiration, together with my own experience of war, I wanted to convey in music. We preserve our art, culture, music at all times and turn to them even in the most difficult moments – I remember how my neighbors and I were singing songs in the bomb shelter in the first days of the full-scale invasion. Even this performance is a vivid representation of this power, because we live, we fight and we will definitely win’, Daria says.
‘For all of us – both Ukrainians and Americans working on the project – this performance is primarily an attempt to show our cross-temporal connection, interdependence and the heritage of Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian ideas. It is incredibly pleasant that in one of the most important independent American theaters they will sing ‘Kharkiv, Kharkiv’, will talk about the great Kurbas, about the Ukrainian avant-garde, about the hopes, faith and resilience of Ukrainian Kharkiv. Today it is especially important’, Serhii Zhadan stated on social media.
Daria Kolomieс was interviewed by the co-founder and CEO of ‘Bukvy’ Kateryna Roshuk.